Widow-ish: When You Don't Look Like a Widow

09/22/2017 05:53 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2017

The last time I was at the car wash, while waiting for our cars, the person next to me said, “Hope it doesn’t rain. Last time I got a carwash, it rained the next day.” I replied, “Oh, I hate it when that happens. Especially because I’m a widow.”  

I know, widow… rain… carwash.  There doesn’t appear to be a connection.  But talking about my husband, who died almost four years ago, is a way to keep him alive, even if it is the ultimate non sequitur.  I call it my widow’s Tourette’s, and when it happens, and the person realizes that I said the word widow, I can see the wheels in their mind spinning. The energy starts to shift and they’ll either say, “I’m so sorry!” and want to hear more…  Or, they will quickly get as far away from me as possible, afraid that the death of a spouse may be contagious… or maybe it’s just that I’m an over-sharer.

After my husband died, someone I had just met said to me, “You’re a widow?! I never would have guessed that!” It gave me pause.  Maybe that’s why I feel compelled to tell people, to say it out loud.  Should it be more obvious? How could I prove that I was grieving?  Maybe carrying around an X-ray of my shattered heart and bereft soul would help?  

It was as if there was a disconnect between the word widow (which I embraced) and the expectation behind it. I couldn’t stop thinking about this comment for days, and then it hit me:  perhaps I present myself as kind of, sort of, widow-ish.   

I know that I do not look like a widow. I was in my mid-40’s when my husband died.  It’s not that I look so young, but I am still young-ish. My hair is long and not gray.  I’m fairly wrinkle free thanks to great genes, and black just isn’t my color so I don’t wear it often.  We were all young, though.  My husband had just turned 50 years old. Our daughter was 13.  

I also don’t look like a widow because I don’t look sad, or maybe it’s just that I don’t look sad enough.  That’s not to say I don’t have my moments (I can’t tell you how many yoga classes I took where I sat in child’s pose sobbing, or the number of times I had to pull my car to the side of the road, my tears preventing me from driving) but I am happy for the most part.  Which means I do not act like a widow, either.  I’m not sitting indoors with the curtains drawn, like a twisted, modern-day version of Miss Havisham, dressed in funeral clothes, with left over food from shiva rotting on my table.  No, I realized early on that life had to go on, if for no other reason than my dog needed walking and our daughter wanted dinner.

A year after my husband died, I got involved with a wonderful guy.  It’s been three years and we are going strong. People who don’t know my story assume that my boyfriend and I are married, to which I’ll say, “We’re in love, but we’re not married. I’m a widow.” (Big surprise!) My boyfriend accepts that he shares me with my husband, and I love him even more for it.  

It’s important to me that people know that I did have a husband. I don’t want them to think that a) I have never been married… or b) that I must be divorced.  I want them to know that I was Happily Married for 16 years, together for nearly 20.  My husband and I have a daughter together, we shared a beautiful life. My heart was, and continues to be full.  

So yes, I may not look like a widow, I may not act like a widow, but believe me, I am a widow-ish widow.

But this is only part of the story, one I’m eager to tell… even at the car wash, no matter the weather.

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